Expected Council Action
In April, the Security Council is expected to hold its first briefing this year on the situation in Kosovo. Special Representative and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Caroline Ziadeh will brief on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s latest report.
Key Recent Developments
Throughout the latter half of 2022, tensions in northern Kosovo escalated because of a long-standing license plate dispute. Between 2011 and 2021, Kosovo and Serbia had an agreement under which Kosovo permitted vehicles displaying either KS (Kosovo) license plates, which were acceptable to Serbia, or RKS (Republic of Kosovo) plates, which were not. When the agreement expired on 15 September 2021, Pristina began enforcing a new policy requiring all vehicles in Kosovo to display the RKS license plate, leading hundreds of Kosovo Serbs to protest at the border. After two days of EU-facilitated negotiations in Brussels, a provisional agreement was reached on 30 September 2021, under which special stickers would replace national symbols on vehicle license plates.
On 29 June 2022, however, Pristina announced that it would move forward with implementing its policy, requiring all vehicles with Serbian plates to re-register with RKS plates by 30 September 2022. On 31 July 2022, Pristina postponed the implementation of the policy by one month. Facing pressure from the EU and the Quint countries (France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US), Prime Minister Albin Kurti of Kosovo announced on 28 October 2022 a gradual implementation of the policy, with warnings issued during the first three weeks, followed by fines, and then by vehicle confiscation by 21 April 2023.
On 3 November 2022, Kosovo’s interior minister, Xhelal Sveçla, suspended the police chief of northern Kosovo because he refused to issue warnings to drivers with Serbian license plates. In response, hundreds of Kosovo Serb judges, lawmakers, and police officers resigned on 5 November, and thousands of people protested in Mitrovica the following day. On 23 November, facing continued international pressure, Belgrade and Pristina reached an agreement to end the license plate dispute, with Kosovo allowing Serbian plates and Serbia ceasing to issue plates with Kosovo cities’ denominations.
In late December 2022, as tensions eased, the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue shifted its focus from crisis management to advancing the normalisation of relations and the two sides’ respective European futures. On 15 December, Kosovo submitted a formal application for EU membership.
At a 27 February meeting in Brussels, Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić agreed in principle to an EU proposal on normalising ties. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and the EU Special Representative for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue Miroslav Lajčák facilitated the meeting. The proposal was based on an earlier draft prepared by French and German diplomats in September 2022. The 11-point agreement specifies that Kosovo and Serbia develop normal, good-neighbourly relations with each other on the basis of equal rights and recognise each other’s documents and national symbols, including passports and license plates. The text also stipulates that neither can represent the other in the international sphere and that Serbia will not object to Kosovo’s membership in international organisations.
While the agreement does not refer to the issue of establishing an association of Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo, it commits Kosovo to forming “specific arrangements and guarantees…to ensure an appropriate level of self-management” for the Serbian community in Kosovo. The agreement also says that the status of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo should be formalised and a strong level of protection afforded to Serbian religious and cultural heritage sites.
On 18 March, Borrell convened a further meeting in Ohrid, North Macedonia, during which Kurti and Vučić agreed on an annex outlining steps for the agreement’s implementation. The annex says that the 11 articles comprising the agreement will be implemented independently of each other and that all implementation-related discussions will take place under the EU-facilitated dialogue. It also notes that the agreement and annex will become integral parts of the parties’ respective EU accession processes.
In a 19 March post on Twitter, UNMIK said that Ziadeh welcomes the progress achieved in Ohrid and calls on both sides to “sustain their constructive engagement and fulfil their commitments in good faith”. In a statement the following day, Secretary-General António Guterres expressed the UN’s commitment to supporting the implementation of all agreements reached through the EU-facilitated dialogue.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In a November 2022 statement, Jerome Bouyjou, Chief of UNMIK’s Human Rights Component and Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kosovo, commented on the third report on the human rights situation in Kosovo. Written jointly by a group of 37 key non-government organisations with support from UNMIK, the report provides insights into a wide range of issues, focusing on cross-cutting human rights topics such as “corruption and human rights, transitional justice, the right to freedom of expression and the environment and human rights”. Bouyjou noted that human rights reporting, analysis and monitoring by civil society organisations is “crucial to advance human rights in Kosovo and increase the accountability of institutions”.
Key Issues and Options
The Council’s main priority is to maintain stability in Kosovo and promote the de-escalation of tensions in the north. It will continue to monitor diplomatic efforts to advance the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and any efforts towards reaching a final, legally binding agreement on Kosovo. In this regard, Council members could consider pursuing a presidential statement welcoming the 27 February agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia and calling on both sides to implement the 18 March annex in good faith.
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members are united in supporting the EU-facilitated dialogue to establish conditions for the normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Several members—including Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, and the US—commended the implementation agreement. During the Council’s 18 October 2022 briefing, however, Russia criticised the EU, arguing that the French-German proposal “was designed to force Belgrade to agree with Kosovo’s statehood”.
Deep divisions among permanent members have continued to characterise the Council’s approach to the issue. Among the five permanent Council members, France, the UK, and the US recognise Kosovo’s independence and tend to be supportive of its government; China and Russia do not recognise its independence and strongly support Serbia’s position and its claim to territorial integrity. Seven elected members (Albania, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Switzerland, and the UAE) recognise Kosovo’s independence, while three (Brazil, Ecuador, and Mozambique) do not.
The issue of modifying UNMIK’s mandate with a view to its possible drawdown is another point of contention among Council members. The US has been the most vocal proponent of ending UNMIK’s mandate as well as reducing the frequency of briefings, citing the level of stability in Kosovo. Similarly, the UK has called for a review of UNMIK’s mandate, arguing that conditions on the ground have completely changed since UNMIK was established 23 years ago. At the 18 October briefing, Albania proposed reducing the frequency of Council meetings to only one per year.
While a representative of Kosovo typically participates in the Council’s briefings under Rule 39 of its provisional rules of procedure, Russia may attempt to challenge this practice at next month’s meeting. During the Council’s briefing on the situation in Ukraine on 17 March, Russia proposed that Daria Morozova, in her capacity as “ombudsperson of the Donetsk Region,” brief the Council under Rule 39. In response, the US called for a procedural vote, characterising Russia’s request as an attempt “to implicitly extend recognition to illegitimate authorities”. Additionally, the US argued that Morozova’s participation would be a violation of General Assembly Resolution ES-11/4, which called on all states to refrain from any dealings that might be interpreted as recognising an altered status of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine.
The Council voted not to allow Morozova to participate, after which Russia argued that the US’ reasoning could also be applied to Kosovo’s participation in Council meetings under Rule 39. According to Russia, that participation is “a clear violation of [Security Council] Resolution 1244” of 1999, which established UNMIK. Russia then hinted that it might raise this issue at the upcoming briefing on the situation in Kosovo. The US cautioned Council members to be wary of attempts to draw reductionist parallels to other situations that are not comparable. Supporting the US position, Albania noted that in a 2008 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined that Kosovo’s declaration of independence on 17 February 2008 did not violate international law, while in March 2022, the ICJ called on Russia to immediately suspend its military operation in Ukraine. Albania stressed that Kosovo and Serbia are negotiating to find mutually agreed solutions through dialogue, rather than war.
UN DOCUMENTS ON KOSOVO
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|18 October 2022S/PV.9155||This was a meeting on the situation in Kosovo.|